Our Department arranged a series of networking events for Russian art therapists visiting NYC for the Expressive Therapies Summit. Department Chair Debi Farber conducted an art therapy workshop as part of an exchange of ideas and techniques with our international colleagues. Ten participants worked in three groups to create ‘islands’– places of sanctuary and comfort.
Decisions about what to include on each of the islands, how space was negotiated, boundaries, problem-solving, and communication, not only made for spirited group dynamics, but also seemed to be culturally determined. Irina Derkacheva, a Russian-American second-year MPS Art Therapy student assisting as a translator, noted that issues such as division of both communal space and labor, the importance of economic solvency, and gender, as well as age roles, were important themes in the creation of the islands.
From a North American point of view, it is important that we broaden our cultural lens. Culture, ethnicity, race, and economic and political factors have a profound effect on both individuals and groups. Understanding how these factors influence the therapeutic process is imperative for effective assessment and clinical intervention.
We were very impressed by the variety of natural and man-made materials and objects offered to us (junk materials and found objects). The group thoroughly enjoyed exploring and experimenting with these new materials. For some, this process was a true discovery.
The overall structure of the session was very similar to the way we conduct sessions in our practice. Group trainings, student groups and client groups are usually conducted in the same way.The directives used impressed us with their incredible potential for self-discovery.
The group greatly appreciated the program prepared for us by the department’s faculty and administration. In addition to participating in the workshops, we enjoyed learning about the organizational and the methodological aspects of art therapy practice and training in the U.S.